From the Sinclair ZX81 to OLPC’s Sugar


My first personal computer was a Sinclair ZX81. I still remember plugging away on it in BASIC, with wondrous eyes that lit up every time something appeared on the Sony Trinitron TV to which it was plugged into. This something would range from “Hello World!” on screen that was the result of my first foray into BASIC programming, to the cutting-edge graphics of the day – 3D Monster Maze. I never graduated, as many did, to the ZX Spectrum and remained faithful to the ZX81 until I got my first PC in 1996 – a Cyrix 150P+ based machine. The web had not been invented at the time I got the ZX81 and was for the majority of users, a luxury in 1996.

A computer in every pot, an article in the Economist, tells us how far we’ve come. For millions of children in many countries, the OLPC – now called the XO – will be their first PC.


Having actually used a pre-production OLPC earlier this year, I can attest that the machine and the operating system are truly amazing. The screen is an engineering marvel, and the OS, running on an cut-down but incredibly capable version of Red Hat’s Fedora, is a joy to use. The User Interface is incredibly intuitive (called Sugar) and it’s got a built in camera, wifi and wireless mesh networking to boot.

Toy, serious education tool, or both and more? The fullness of time will tell us whether Negroponte’s vision significantly changed the approach to and understanding of ICT in education, development and the creation of social capital in under-developed regions and countries. And as much as I have reservations on his approach, I do believe that the OLPC, in terms of design and engineering, is well ahead of many mainstream laptops sold today.

As the Economist avers:

The question now is when can the rest of us get laptops as cheap and clever as the OLPC’s radical design? Judging from the stir the XO has created, the answer is more likely to be months rather than years.

Read the full story here.

Also read:
Porn on the “$100″ PC
ICT4Peace, OLPC and Technology for Social Change – A conversation with Paul Currion
To be or not to be – The $100 laptop

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2 thoughts on “From the Sinclair ZX81 to OLPC’s Sugar

  1. I chuckled at the subversive side of the story about porn-surfing OLPC beneficiaries: it’s a far remove from BBoard Ascii text versions of the scantily-clad women on the cover of the ZX spectrum classic game “Barbarian”!

  2. Ahh.. The Sinclars.
    My father owned a couple of Spectrums, and I, too remember typing my first words into one of them. I was about 6 years old, I think.
    Into a JVC set, in this case…

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